I had the pleasure this week of sitting in a supportive housing development presentation hosted by Urban Assets and Chicago-based Heartland Housing and Health Outreach at the Central Library. The subject of the presentation was a new 40+ unit housing development being planned for East Washington Ave. The development will be 4 stories tall with 10 units on each floor, a fully functional kitchen, recreation area, three counseling offices, and a reception desk. It will also include a packed backyard garden, edible plants along the front walkway, a chicken coop and run, and a backyard beehive. The units will house single, chronically homeless individuals, who will pay 30% of their income in order to live in the apartments. Heartland is working hard to make the building “net-zero ready;” ready to transition to zero-energy cost operation once the infrastructure is in place withing the city/county.
This is exactly the kind of project which Madison needs and represents the best possible vision for this city. It is a simple and direct approach to one of our most visible and painful reminders of inequality within the city and it is an exemplar of exactly what I have been talking about for the last several months. We desperately need programs, initiatives, and developments that engage with the homeless population (and under-served, marginalized populations, and the population at large, in fact!) and this supportive housing plan incorporates just about everything that these individuals need to lift themselves up.
I believe that the gardens, especially, play an important role for several reasons. The first reason is that they provide residents with an extremely rewarding creative-work outlet. Human beings have always engaged in cultivation of the land, and it is this practice which truly separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Tending the land connects us to our ancestral roots; roots which have been severed by our modern reliance on automation, technology, and mass production. Watching something grow provides a sense of accomplishment, a sense of purpose, which other work simply cannot match, and it is this kind of [spiritual] satisfaction which individuals affected by chronic poverty, mental illness, and trauma, the most common prerequisites for homelessness are most in need of.
Second, the gardens provide something which almost all people dealing with homelessness desperately need: nutritious food. In recent years the correlation between nutrition and mental ability has been extensively documented, and we now know that behavioral problems develop as a direct result of inadequate nutrition. This has significant implications, as the food which is accessible to those living below the poverty line is most often completely devoid of nutrients, covered in toxic pesticides and herbicides, or treated with chemical washes.
Third, and perhaps most obviously, the gardens and kitchen provide residents with skills that can never be taken away from them. Knowledge is power and knowledge of how to grow food, how to tend the soil, and about the importance of nutrition is a priceless gift. In the future the majority of people who are able will tend land in some capacity in their communities, and if we can offer these opportunities first to those who need them most I say let’s do it!
On that note I will elucidate on where I think that our community and our country at large are headed…
Micro-agriculture, energy efficiency, and community building are, as I see it, the keys to this city’s future. As the national economy continues its roller-coaster course and things continue to deteriorate within the Federal government, it is now left to localities; towns, villages, and cities, to correct the ecological and social imbalances which have grown out of laise-faire economic policies championed by Democrats and Republicans alike in the last several decades. We are coming to a generational crossroads, we see, as the children of the baby boomers are asking how we can address the imbalances built into our social system and redirect our collective energies toward the healing of past hurts both environmental and social.
The answer which we are waking up to more and more each day is that the solution to [global] problems of poverty, ecosystem destruction, and military aggression, problems exacerbated by (and indeed created by) the demands of a market system which depends on continual expansion, a system which has its roots in colonialism and empire, will be local. “Going local” has a kind of kitschy ring to it, but the sustainability movement is set to roll over the corporate agenda at an ever increasing pace. As the public becomes aware of widespread problems in our food system, tremendous inequities in our legal system, and myriad other problems which have grown out of a system which has been co-opted to work for the rich at the expense of the poor, organic resistance is proliferating all over the country. Often it is said that these problems are “too big,” but I believe that for local communities the problems only persist while people continue to think small.
I am running for Mayor because I want Madison to lead the Midwest in promoting sustainable, equitable developments such as this project (and WAY more). My goal is nothing short of total community engagement for the purpose of attaining “net-zero,” the restoration of local production, and achieving energy and agricultural independence from national and multi-national corporations. We have the means, it is just a matter of directing our energies towards ends which benefit our community members most.
It is now for us to reach out across dividing lines and find ways in which we may come together to better our communities, to support each other, and to realize a vision of a world that we want to live in, rather than simply living with the world which has been given to us.